Hockey camp brings Yukon kids from far and wide, to skate with pros

Five-year-old Isaiah Frost chomps down on a bag of Cheetos. Licking the orange dust from his fingers and clutching his hockey bag and stick, he can barely contain his excitement.

He is playing hockey in Whitehorse this week for the first time.

It's a big deal for the young Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation citizen. He lives in a fly-in community, is just learning to skate, and until this week, didn't even own hockey gear.

Frost is one of five young hockey players from Old Crow who took part in the 16th annual "Learning to Lead" hockey camp, which wrapped up on Friday. The camp teamed young players up with some seasoned professionals.

The Old Crow kids were at the camp thanks to Jordan's Principle — a child-first and needs-based principle developed to ensure that First Nations children have access to the same opportunities as non-First Nations kids.

The Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) accessed funding from the principle to help get kids to the camp that otherwise wouldn't be able to.

CYFN arranged flights, accommodations and even took the players on a shopping spree at Canadian Tire.

CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston says it's about empowering kids, breaking down barriers, and building healthy bodies and healthy lifestyles.

"I've been to Old Crow, I've seen their ice, I've seen their facility... it's not in the best shape," he said. "They don't get hockey camps to Old Crow because of their facilities," said Johnston.

"To be able to utilize the Jordan's Principle to bring five kids here ... just to see the smiles on their face when they got the new gear — it was well worth it."

Jane Montgomery agrees.

She's also made the trip to Whitehorse for the hockey camp — not to play, but to support her grandsons.

She's lining up for autographs, buying bags of Cheetos and cheering from the stands.

"It's been really nice for them.It's their first time, they're having a good time, swimming, enjoying themselves and they're happy," said Montgomery.

"They don't have this opportunity in the community of Old Crow... we have an arena, but it's not flooded until freeze up, which is probably the end of October."

More than just a sport

This is no ordinary hockey camp. It's laced with current, and former, professional players.

Troy Stecher, who plays for the Vancouver Canucks and helped out at the camp, did not have a connection to the North but he did have a desire to help northern kids.

Arron Asham was also at the camp. He's a 15-year NHL veteran, and he was considered one of the game's toughest enforcers.

A Métis from Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, this was Asham's third visit to Whitehorse.

He loves the scenery, the fishing and the pace, but more importantly, he understands how vital hockey can be to young First Nations kids.

"I had a lot of family members that were in jail or, you know, overdosed on drugs and you know, alcoholics," he said.

"Hockey was my way of staying clean, trying to stay out of jail and out of drinking ... without hockey, I don't know where I'd be right now. I certainly wouldn't be in Whitehorse, helping to run a hockey camp."

Peter Johnston says the hope is to get more kids from smaller Yukon communities at future camps, playing sports and leading healthy lifestyles.

"If we not only get kids to camp, but inspire one kid to want to move on to bigger and better things — I think it's money well spent," Johnston said.

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